Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Bipulmonary Spiritual Classic

Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, C.R.'s Il combattimento spirituale (The Spiritual Combat) is one of the classic works of Catholic spirituality regarding spiritual warfare.  The author was a member of the Congregation of Clerks Regular of the Divine Providence, better known as the Theatines, who lived between 1530 and 1610, publishing this work, his most famous, in 1589.  For centuries, this work has been an ascetic classic in the Western Church: one great devotee of the work was St. Francis de Sales, a Doctor of the Church, who carried it in his pocket for 20 years.

The work's popularity did not stop in the Western Church, though: it migrated to the East, making this classic one revered by both lungs of the Church, West and East.  Nicodemus the Hagiorite (Hagiorite means "of the Holy Mountain," that is, Mount Athos in Greece), a Greek Orthodox saint of the 18th century, came across this text and was enamored by it.  Seeing its potential for spiritual growth among the Orthodox, he translated the work into Greek without revealing its origins, while altering a few sections and including notes with copious quotes and examples from both the Scriptures and the Eastern Fathers.  Nicodemus' rendition, entitled Αορατος Πολεμος (Unseen Warfare), became a spiritual classic in the Greek East as well, especially among the monks of Mount Athos, where Nicodemus lived.

The spread of this work was not complete in Greece, though, for there was another major land it would head to: Russia.  Bishop Theophan the Recluse, a famous 19th century Russian monk and saint of the Russian Orthodox Church, found Nicodemus' rendition of Scupoli's work, and he made his own changes to it as he translated it into Russian (among these changes, he reduced the bipulmonary nature of Nicodemus' rendition: while the Greek left Scupoli's many Western references, while adding Eastern ones, the Russian removed the West almost completely, leaving the work almost thoroughly Easternized).

Scupoli's work thus gives an example of the way the Western and Eastern churches are connected.  This work (particularly in Nicodemus' rendition) breathes with both lungs of the Church: it takes its basis from the West while adding the ancient traditions of the East.  If only more spiritual classics could cross the barriers between Rome, Constantinople, and Moscow!  If only we would be enriched with not just the wonderful treasures of the West--St. Benedict, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, Bl. Pope John Paul II the Great--but also the countless ancient gems of the East--St. John Climacus, St. Isaac the Syrian, St. Barsanuphius, St. Makarios, St. Maximos, St. Ephrem, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Symeon the New Theologian.  I hope that in the future, the two halves of the Church may be reunited so that the Church will once again be able to breathe with both lungs, as Bl. Pope John Paul II said.

Below are a few quotes from Theophan's rendition of the work: I hope you find them spiritually fruitful, and if so, thank the Lord and his work through these writers.  I am just a channel of their wisdom, passing it on undisturbed from them to you.

"If you really desire to be victorious in this unseen warfare and be rewarded with a crown, you must plant in your heart the following four dispositions and spiritual activities, as it were arming yourself with invisible weapons, the most trustworthy and unconquerable of all, namely: (a) never rely on yourself in anything; (b) bear always in your heart a perfect and all-daring trust in God alone; (c) strive without ceasing; and (d) remain constantly in prayer" (I.1).

"Always sincerely dispose yourself to keep nothing but God's pleasure in view" (I.10).

"Holy Virgin, do not let me yield to the enemies and be vanquished by them.  O my guardian Angel, cover me with your wings against enemy arrows, and with your sword strike them down and cut them off from me" (I.14).

"When you are occupied with reading the word of God, have in mind that God is secretly present beneath every word, and take these words as issuing from His divine lips" (I.23).

"In spiritual warfare, by prayer you put your battle-axes in God's hand, that He should fight your enemies and overcome them" (I.46).

"Full and real prayer is when praying words and praying thoughts are combined with praying feelings" (I.47).

"Your heart, beloved, is made by God for the sole purpose of loving Him alone and of serving as a dwelling for Him" (II.14).

"The key, which opens the mysterious treasure-house of spiritual gifts of knowledge and Divine love, is humility, renunciation of self and surrendering oneself to God at all times and in every action" (II.20).

I hope you found this post fruitful: if so, thank the Lord, not me.  Thank you for reading this work of a sinner, and God Bless.

St. Cajetan, founder of the Theatines, pray for us!

Nota Bene: Information for this post came from Wikipedia (Lorenzo Scupoli, Theatines), Prof. H.A. Hodges' Introduction to Unseen Warfare (see it on Google Books here), and Catholic catechumen.  The quotes come from Bishop Theophan the Recluse's revision of Nicodemus the Hagiorite's edition of Dom Lorenzo Scupoli's The Spiritual Combat, published as Unseen Warfare by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, translated from the Russian by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer.

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